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15 Punchy Facts About Raging Bull

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It’s the movie that won Robert De Niro his Oscar for Best Actor. It’s the movie that earned Martin Scorsese his first nomination for Best Director. It’s the movie where the guy who would later play Coach on Cheers sees a handsome boxer get mutilated and says, “He ain’t pretty no more.” It’s Raging Bull, it came out 35 years ago this year, and it will punch you in the face. Here are 15 facts to enhance your next viewing of one of the best sports dramas ever made. 

1. IT PARTIALLY OWES ITS EXISTENCE TO ROCKY.

Comparisons to that other Oscar-winning boxing movie from four years earlier were inevitable, but the two were actually connected. Rocky was produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, and released by United Artists. When those same producers approached that same studio about doing another boxing movie, the studio said, “A sequel to Rocky? Sure!” That wasn’t what they had in mind (though they did soon enough), but in the meantime, Rocky’s huge success was enough to sell UA on another boxing movie. 

2. IT WAS ONE OF SEVERAL BOXING MOVIES BEING SHOT AROUND THE SAME TIME.

Rocky started a trend, as movies that win Best Picture often do. In late 1978 and early 1979, when Scorsese was getting started on Raging Bull, there were at least four others in the works: Rocky II, The Main Event, The Champ, and Matilda (the boxing kangaroo). This glut actually helped Scorsese convince United Artists to let him shoot Raging Bull in black-and-white, as it would make his boxing movie stand out visually from the others. Hey, whatever works, right?

3. FOR RESEARCH, SCREENWRITER MARDIK MARTIN LIVED WITH JAKE LAMOTTA’S EX-WIFE FOR A FEW DAYS.

“Lived with” is how he phrased it on the 30th anniversary Blu-ray. Vickie LaMotta was open enough to the idea of a movie about her ex-husband that she let Martin visit her in Florida and pick her brain about her relationship with the volatile pugilist.

4. DE NIRO WANTED TO DO IT AS A PLAY, TOO.

This was in early 1978, before it was even written as a movie yet, when De Niro was collaborating with Mardik Martin to adapt LaMotta’s memoir, while simultaneously trying to convince a noncommittal and increasingly drug-addled Scorsese to take on the project. De Niro’s idea was to stage it as a Broadway play (to be directed by Scorsese), and then, during the run of the show, spend the daylight hours shooting the movie. De Niro liked the idea of the day’s filming influencing the way they performed the play that night. But Martin’s script wasn’t yet ready for either medium, and Scorsese was in no shape to do it then anyway. 

5. PAUL SCHRADER FIXED THE SCREENPLAY BY ADDING JAKE LAMOTTA’S BROTHER, JOEY.

It’s strange to imagine Raging Bull without the Joe Pesci character, but that’s how Mardik Martin’s first drafts had it. He was adapting LaMotta’s 1970 memoir, Raging Bull: My Story, co-authored by LaMotta’s lifelong friend Peter Savage (born Peter Petrella). The book didn’t feature Joey as a prominent character, and it had Savage doing most of the things that Joey would eventually do in the movie. When Schrader was hired to build on the work Martin had done and take another stab at the screenplay, he decided the story would be more compelling if it involved brothers rather than friends (blood ties and all that), so he introduced the Joey character and excised poor old Pete. This creative license proved problematic later, when Joey LaMotta sued for defamation because the movie had attributed to him a number of unwholesome deeds (like beating the crap out of a neighborhood mobster) that had actually been perpetrated by Savage. 

6. SCORSESE SHOT ALL THE BOXING SCENES FIRST, THEN ALL THE NON-BOXING SCENES. 

At opposite ends of the country, too: the boxing was shot in Los Angeles, and everything else was shot on sets and real locations in New York. 

7. JAKE LAMOTTA WAS ON THE SET FOR THE BOXING SCENES, BUT NOT FOR THE DRAMATIC SCENES. 

The retired boxer cooperated eagerly with Scorsese and De Niro in making the film, despite its somewhat unflattering depiction of him. (He’d been very frank about his shortcomings in his autobiography.) He was on hand to give technical advice to De Niro when the boxing matches were being shot, for which the actor was grateful. But when it came time to shoot the non-boxing stuff, Scorsese asked him not to tag along. De Niro said that LaMotta understood, “because you don’t want the guy to come over and say, ‘That’s not the way I did it.’ ... You feel like you’re doing it for the approval of someone else.” 

8. TO MAKE JAKE’S HOME MOVIES LOOK AUTHENTICALLY BATTERED, SCORSESE SCRATCHED THE FILM NEGATIVE. 

The director himself physically, literally scratched it. With a coat hanger. That’s something you could do when movies were shot on actual film. According to editor Thelma Schoonmaker, the home movies were so realistic looking (and the only color part of the film) that at least one theater projectionist, thinking the lab had mistakenly mixed them in with the print of Raging Bull, tried to cut them out.

9. JOE PESCI WAS RUNNING AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT WHEN DE NIRO AND SCORSESE APPROACHED HIM ABOUT BEING IN THE MOVIE.

Pesci had been a professional actor and musician (he sang and played guitar) off and on since childhood, but he called it quits in the 1970s. His 1975 Broadway show with comedy partner Frank Vincent (whom he would later recruit to play Salvy in Raging Bull) had closed after a week, and his first movie, 1976’s The Death Collector (also featuring Vincent), was a flop. But Robert De Niro happened to see that film in 1978, and was so impressed by Pesci’s performance that he pitched him to Scorsese. The two tracked Pesci down and called him at his restaurant to coax him out of showbiz retirement. 

10. SCORSESE HAD SEVERAL REASONS FOR SHOOTING IN BLACK-AND-WHITE.

Among them: color film decayed over time, which wouldn’t be an issue in black-and-white; getting the colors right for a boxing film set in the 1940s and ’50s would have been an extra hassle; and to a generation of people who had grown up in the 1950s watching Madison Square Garden fights every Friday on NBC, boxing was a black-and-white sport. It was the only way they’d ever seen it. 

11. THERE’S A GOOD REASON WHY THE BOXERS, REFEREES, CORNERMEN, AND ANNOUNCERS SEEM AUTHENTIC: THEY ARE.

Scorsese, a stickler for authenticity when it suits him, got real fighters and other boxing professionals (including LaMotta’s actual cornerman) to fill those roles in the film. Even more true to life: the radio commentary we hear during LaMotta’s fights is the real thing, taken from old recordings. Scorsese didn’t think actors could adequately recreate the sound of those old-timey announcers. 

12. THE SIZE OF THE RING CHANGES FROM FIGHT TO FIGHT, DEPENDING ON JAKE’S FRAME OF MIND.

Not through optical illusions, either—Scorsese actually changed the set. The ring is expansive when Jake is elated, fighting Sugar Ray for the first time; it gets smaller and more hellish later. 

13. A VARIETY OF SEEMINGLY OUT-OF-PLACE SOUND EFFECTS MADE IT INTO THE FINAL MIX. 

You’ll hear an elephant trumpeting and a horse whinnying in one of the fight scenes, suggesting the boxer's animalistic nature. In one of the scenes of domestic violence, a screeching sound is heard that was achieved by pouring dry ice on glass. 

14. CATHY MORIARTY WAS COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED.

Cathy Moriarty was just 18 years old when she was cast as Jake LaMotta’s wife. The Bronx-born Catholic girl hadn’t even been a model (“I’m too clumsy,” she said in 1981), much less an actress, when Joe Pesci saw her at a beauty contest and thought she looked right for the part of Vickie LaMotta.  Moriarty had never acted professionally at that point, her experience limited to school plays and such, but she nailed the screen test opposite De Niro—possibly because she wasn’t familiar with the actor’s work, didn’t realize how big a deal the whole thing was, and wasn’t nervous. 

15. SCORSESE THREATENED TO TAKE HIS NAME OFF THE FILM OVER ONE MINOR SOUND ISSUE. 

Very late in the post-production process, when the film was due to premiere soon and Scorsese was still tinkering with the final sound mix, producer Irwin Winkler gave him a drop deadline: all work would cease at midnight on a certain night, and that would be it. When the hour arrived, Scorsese was obsessing over one minor line of dialogue someone says to a bartender —“Cutty Sark, please”—which he didn’t think was audible. Winkler told him too bad, we’ve got to send this thing out. Scorsese declared that if Winkler released the film this way, he wanted his name taken off it as director, because it no longer reflected his vision. Winkler said, “So be it.” Like all good producers, he knew that sometimes you have to let an overtired director throw a tantrum and say things he doesn’t really mean. Sure enough, Scorsese recanted sometime later.

Additional Sources:
30th anniversary Blu-ray special features
De Niro: A Life
by Shawn Levy

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15 Facts About the First Episode of The Simpsons
FOX
FOX

On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons premiered on FOX. Nearly 30 years later, the Simpson family and their fellow Springfield residents are still going strong. Let's look back at where it all started—"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire."

1. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO PREMIERE IN SEPTEMBER.

The Simpsons was originally planned to premiere earlier in the fall of 1989, but because of animation problems, the series began on December 17 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire." The original pilot, "Some Enchanted Evening," later aired as the season finale.

2. MARGE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET DRUNK.

According to Al Jean, the original premise of the episode was that "Homer was worried that Marge was going to get drunk at a party and get him in trouble at the office."

3. IT'S LACKING THE SERIES' NOW-FAMOUS OPENING SEQUENCE. 

The episode lacked the now-famous opening sequence, which was added in the second episode, "Bart the Genius," because creator Matt Groening thought a longer opening sequence would mean less animation.

4. GWEN STEFANI'S BROTHER PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN ITS CREATION.

One of the layout artists for "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was Eric Stefani, brother of Gwen Stefani and a founding member of No Doubt.

5. BARNEY LOOKED A BIT DIFFERENT.

In the first episode, Barney had yellow hair, which was the same color as his skin. This was later changed because the people behind the show thought that only members of the Simpson family should have yellow hair.

6. LISA REALLY WANTED A PONY.

Lisa asks for a pony six times on her Christmas list (it's her first line in the series). She would later get her pony in the season 3 episode "Lisa's Pony."

7. PART OF IT WAS INSPIRED BY MATT GROENING'S SECOND GRADE SCHOOL REPORT.

According to the DVD commentary, the "Santas of many lands" portion of the Christmas pageant was inspired by a second grade report Matt Groening did on Christmas in Russia.

8. IT DIDN'T INVENT THE ALTERNATE VERSION OF "JINGLE BELLS."

Additionally, Groening claims that this episode has been incorrectly credited with creating the "alternate version" of "Jingle Bells." (Bart sings, "Jingle Bells/Batman Smells/Robin Laid an Egg...")

9. IT WAS ONLY THE SECOND ANIMATED SERIES TO AIR IN PRIMETIME SINCE THE FLINTSTONES.

The Simpsons was just the second animated show to air in primetime since The Flintstones went off the air 23 years earlier. (The other was Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which aired from 1972-1974.)

10. THE IDEA WAS CONCEIVED UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL.

According to executive producer James L. Brooks, "The Simpsons series began like many things begin: with an animator getting drunk at a Christmas party ... We were already doing Tracey Ullman, and David Silverman, who was with us then and would go on to direct The Simpsons Movie, cornered me and poured out his heart about what having a primetime Simpsons show would mean to animators."

11. LISA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A "LITTLE HELL-RAISER."

The Simpsons in 'The Town'
Fox

According to Al Jean, in the original shorts, "Lisa was supposed to be this little hell-raiser like Bart, but their character differentiation was wider when we went to full series."

12. YEARDLEY SMITH AUDITIONED FOR BART.

Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa, originally auditioned for Bart. "That lasted a good eight or nine seconds," Smith recounts, "It was like: "Cut, cut, cut! You sound too much like a girl!"

13. A SECOND CITY PERFORMANCE GOT DAN CASTELLANETA AN AUDITION.

Dan Castellaneta was invited to read for Homer Simpson after Tracey Ullman saw him perform a sketch comedy bit about a blind, crippled comedian at Second City in Chicago.

14. IT WAS MILLHOUSE'S FIRST APPEARANCE, BUT HE ALREADY EXISTED.

"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" is the first time Milhouse appeared on the show, however he was featured in a Butterfinger commercial in 1988.

15. SANTA'S LITTLE HELPER WENT MISSING.

Because "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was originally meant to be the eighth episode, Santa's Little Helper is mysteriously absent from the next episode ("Bart the Genius"). According to DVD commentary, the creators of the show received letters of praise for heightening the awareness of the abandonment of racing dogs even though they didn't know it was a real problem when they created the episode.

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27 Festive Facts About Christmas Vacation
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

On December 1, 1989, a new chapter of Griswold family dysfunction was unleashed upon the world when National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation made its debut in movie theaters and an instant holiday classic was born. Here are 27 things you might not know about everyone’s favorite Christmas comedy.

1. THE MOVIE IS BASED ON A SHORT STORY.

Like the 1983 original, Christmas Vacation is based on a short story, “Christmas ‘59,” written by John Hughes for National Lampoon in December 1980. Its literary predecessor is paid tribute to when Clark is trapped in the attic and pulls out a box of old home movies, including one labeled “Christmas ’59.” (Eagle-eyed viewers might notice that when Clark is watching the film, it actually says “Christmas 1955.”)

2. CLARK GREW UP IN SAMANTHA STEVENS’S HOUSE.

If Clark’s childhood home featured in those old movies looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same house featured on Bewitched as well as The New Gidget. Except it’s not a house at all; it’s part of the Warner Bros. back lot, located on what is known as Blondie Street. The rest of the Griswolds’ neighborhood is on a studio back lot as well. And if the home of their snooty neighbors, Todd and Margo, looks familiar, that’s because it’s where Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family lived in Lethal Weapon.

3. JOHN HUGHES WASN’T A FAN OF SEQUELS.

Though many of Hughes’ films have spawned sequels, the man himself was not a fan of retreads. “The only sequels I was involved in were under duress,” Hughes once stated in an interview. Though he’s credited as a writer on European Vacation, he said that was only because he had created the characters. “But the studio came to me and begged for another [Vacation movie], and I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on. But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles at this stage. I didn't even know about Vegas Vacation until I read about it in the trades! Ever since it came out, people have been coming up to me with disappointed looks on their faces, asking ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘I had nothing to do with it! I swear!’”

4. IT’S ONE OF ONLY TWO CHRISTMAS MOVIES RELEASED IN 1989.

Though the holiday season is usually packed with Christmas-themed movies, Christmas Vacation was one of only two that were released in 1989. The other was John Hancock’s Prancer. Johnny Galecki, a.k.a. Rusty Griswold, starred in both.

5. AUDREY IS (MIRACULOUSLY) OLDER THAN RUSTY.

Johnny Galecki, Beverly D'Angelo, Chevy Chase, and Juliette Lewis in 'Christmas Vacation' (1989)
Warner Bros.

In both the original Vacation and European Vacation, Rusty is believed to be the older of the two Griswold children. In Christmas Vacation, Rusty somehow morphs into Audrey’s younger brother.

6. THE FILM HAS TIES TO IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

In addition to footage from the Frank Capra classic actually appearing in the film, Christmas Vacation has another fun tie to It’s a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra’s grandson, Frank Capra III, is Christmas Vacation’s assistant director.

7. THE CAST OF CHRISTMAS VACATION WAS PRETTY IMPRESSIVE.

In addition to featuring future stars Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis (who scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination three years later for her role in Cape Fear), star Beverly D’Angelo was most impressed with the older actors who came along for the Christmas Vacation ride. “I attribute that to Jeremiah Chechik and his direction in bringing in E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd,” she noted. “That was really a special cast.”

8. IN A WAY, STANLEY KUBRICK IS TO THANK FOR CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation marked the directorial debut of Jeremiah Chechik, who began his career as a fashion photographer for Vogue then moved into commercial directing. “I had made these commercials that became quite iconic here in the U.S.,” Chechik told to Den of Geek! in 2011. “They were very dark and sexy and sort of a little bit ahead of their time in terms of style. And what happened was they gained the notice of [Stanley] Kubrick, who had mentioned them as his favorite American filmmaking, ironically, in a New York Times article.” It didn’t take long for Chechik’s phone to start ringing and for studios to start sending him scripts. “And the script that really piqued my interest was Christmas Vacation," he said. "And the reason is I had never done any comedy—ever.”

9. CHECHIK HAD NEVER SEEN A VACATION MOVIE.

“I hadn't seen the first two [Vacation movies], and so I wasn't really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big—at the time—their big Christmas movie, and comedy,” Chechik said. “And I just felt if I could crack this maybe there's a whole other world of filmmaking for me.” Following Christmas Vacation, Chechik directed Benny & Joon, Diabolique, and The Avengers plus episodes of The Bronx is Burning, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and Burn Notice.

10. THE MOVIE HAD A HUGE BUDGET, PARTICULARLY FOR A COMEDY.

A $27 million budget, to be exact. Which was particularly high considering that the film had no special effects a la Ghostbusters (which was made for $30 million). But it had no trouble making its budget back; the film’s final domestic gross was $71,319,526.

11. ROGER EBERT DID NOT LOVE THE FILM.

Though it has become a bona fide holiday classic, not everyone was a fan of Christmas Vacation. In his two-star review of the film, Roger Ebert described the movie as “curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work.”

12. IT’S THE ONLY SEQUEL IN THE VACATION FRANCHISE TO HAVE ITS OWN SEQUEL.

Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure DVD
Warner Home Video

But don’t be disappointed if you didn’t know that. Or haven’t seen it. The 2003 film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, was made for television. It finds Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn (as Eddie and Catherine) stranded on an island in the South Pacific for the holidays. Yes, really. It currently holds a 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

13. AUDREY IS THE ONLY GRISWOLD TO APPEAR IN CHRISTMAS VACATION 2.

Dana Barron, who played Audrey in the original Vacation, reprised her role for the Christmas Vacation sequel. Eric Idle, who appeared in European Vacation, also makes an appearance, playing “English Victim.”

14. COUSIN EDDIE IS RANDY QUAID’S BEST-KNOWN CHARACTER.

At least it’s the role that gets him the most recognition. In a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Quaid admitted that he was amazed by the impact the character made. “People still come up to me and quote lines from that part. I get a lot of recognition from that role—probably as much, if not more, than any other.”

15. COUSIN EDDIE IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

Quaid borrowed many of Cousin Eddie’s mannerisms from a guy he knew growing up in Texas, most notably his tendency toward tongue-clicking. But Eddie’s sweater/Dickie combo? That was an idea from Quaid’s wife.

16. YOU CAN BUY YOUR OWN DICKIE.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Collectibles is a website dedicated to all things Christmas Vacation (obviously). Among the many fun items are Cousin Eddie wardrobe staples, moose mugs, and punch bowls.

17. EDDIE’S SON, ROCKY, DOESN’T SPEAK IN THE FILM.

Nope, not a word.

18. AUNT BETHANY IS BETTY BOOP.

Christmas Vacation marked the final film of Mae Questel, who began her career as the voice of Betty Boop in 1931. She passed away at the age of 89 in January of 1998.

19. BETHANY AND LOUIS’ ENTRANCE MADE THE EARTH SHAKE.

At the same time the production filmed the arrival of Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany at the Griswold house, a minor earthquake struck. The camera shakes slightly as a result of it as Bethany walks through the front door.

20. CHRISTMAS VACATION WENT STRAIGHT TO VIDEO IN ENGLAND.

Though the movie is a popular holiday film in the UK too, it was never actually shown in theaters there. Instead, it went straight to home video.

21. YOU WON’T HEAR “HOLIDAY ROAD” IN CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation is the only movie in the series that doesn’t feature Lindsey Buckingham’s song, “Holiday Road.” Instead, a new song—the aptly titled “Christmas Vacation”—was written for the film by married songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. A cover of the song appears on the 2007 Disney Channel Holiday album.

22. RANDY QUAID IS THE THIRD COUSIN OF GENE AUTRY.

Which may just sound like a random. But at the end of the film, when the police raid the Griswold home, the version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” being used is Autry’s.

23. ELLEN GRISWOLD LIED TO THE COPS.

In the same scene, Ellen Griswold apologizes to Mrs. Shirley—the wife of Clark’s boss and Eddie’s kidnapping victim—assuring her that “This is our family's first kidnapping,” when, in fact, it is their second. At least the second that we know of: In the first Vacation film, the Griswolds force Lasky, the security guard at Wally World (played by John Candy), to open the park for them.

24. CHEVY CHASE, BEVERLY D’ANGELO, AND JULIETTE LEWIS REUNITED IN 2012.

The trio got together to film a series of Old Navy commercials for the holiday season. Though Johnny Galecki wasn’t there, two previous Rustys—Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively—were. As was Dana Barron.

25. JOHNNY GALECKI RECEIVED AN AWARD FROM CHEVY CHASE.

In a 2012 interview, The Sydney Morning Herald asked Johnny Galecki whether he has kept in touch with Chevy Chase. He admitted that “the only time I’ve seen him since that movie, which was 21 years ago I think, is when he presented us with our People’s Choice Award, so that was really neat. If you’re going to run into Chevy again it may as well be as he’s giving you an award.”

26. CHEVY CHASE AND BEVERLY D'ANGELO WERE ANXIOUS TO SEE ANOTHER VACATION MOVIE HAPPEN.

On July 29, 2015, the latest film in the Vacation franchise—simply titled Vacation—made its debut. And it couldn't have happened soon enough for Chase and D'Angelo. In 2011, Chase told Ain’t It Cool News that “I just got off the phone with Beverly D’Angelo. We are trying to work up a new Vacation and apparently Warner’s is working on one with grandchildren, but the one that Bev and I want … You know, we are just trying to think of ideas, because she is very funny and very brilliant, so when you get her in a writing mood and me in writing mood, it’s good, but it’s very hard to get the time.”

27. THE STUDIO WON THAT ONE.

Chase and D’Angelo may have had their own ideas, but the studio moved ahead with that whole “one with grandchildren” thing. Written and directed by John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan M. Goldstein (who wrote Horrible Bosses), Vacation featured a grown-up Rusty (played by Ed Helms) taking his own family on a road trip.

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